This fall, the doors of the Snyder-Philips complex will open to the inaugural class of the new Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. That these new and newly restored facilities are ready for the students is the result of contributions by hundreds of workers over the past two years. Their stories, and those of the many people who will continue to build the new College, will be commemorated in a multifaceted project called Building Stories.
Building Stories is inspired by Studs Terkel’s famous oral history Working (1972) and by National Public Radio’s StoryCorps, a project in which ordinary citizens tell their own stories to one another and record them. It invites those who helped build the College to talk about how their work on the RCAH and on similar projects fits into their life as a whole.
“We want them to talk about the details of the work – how they do what they do – but also what it means within the larger contexts of family, neighborhood, community, and country,” says acting dean Stephen Esquith. “For some this may mean thinking about the possibility that their own children or grandchildren might attend the RCAH. It may mean thinking about the role that the RCAH can and should play in the Michigan economy. It may mean thinking about MSU’s mission to be a global university.”
The goal of the Building Stories project is to build friendships and a sense of community across the occupational and generational divides that typically mark our educational experiences.
The project will continue beyond the initial construction phase. Like any college, the RCAH is defined by the space it occupies, but it is not reducible to that space. Just as Building Stories will create a way for today’s workers and tomorrow’s students and faculty to remain in touch with one another, it also will be a way for future workers in the RCAH, future students, and future graduates to write the next chapters of the College.
Building Stories, then, is a process that will occur in many ways: through creative workshops and writing courses for students; through casual conversations among students, workers, and their families; through website blogs; through musical performances and dramatic re-enactments; and on paper and canvas on exhibit in the RCAH gallery. Building Stories will be at once an archive, a celebration, and a living conversation.